The Post tells a story that is well known, but it never feels slow or dull. That’s because it is an exciting real story and because of the quality of the film.
It is the story of the ‘Pentagon Papers.’ That was the trove of classified documents taken by security analyst Daniel Ellsberg from a safe at the RAND Corporation (a research organization that helps the government).
Ellsberg was a highly regarded military correspondent in Vietnam and a top-level analyst for RAND. The year is 1971.
Ellsberg contributed to the research for the 7,000 or so pages of the reports, which unequivocally revealed that the government had been deceiving the country, and Congress, about the Vietnam War.
From Truman to Nixon, the war was never considered winnable by those in charge of the political or the military aspects. Rather than remove our military from the futile struggle, more troops were sent to fight.
Ellsberg’s motive was to stop the fighting, the flow of casualties and the government’s deception. He arranged to turn the documents over to the New York Times for publication.
When the Times started to print the material, the government sued and the Supreme Court shut down any continuation of the project.
Meanwhile, the film shows us what was happening at the Washington Post, considered a ‘local’ paper, before and during the NY Times conflict with the court.
Katherine Graham inherited ownership of the newspaper from her recently deceased husband. Her father and grandfather were the original principals in the company. Mrs. Graham and her advisors are in the process of taking the Post public to raise much needed money to continue publishing.
Ben Bradlee is the editor-in-chief. He is the man in charge of the news operation, no doubt about it. His mission in life is to print the news, fully and correctly. When he learns about the Pentagon Papers, he sees a possible opportunity to broaden the scope of the Post. It could be a nationally recognized and respected journal, much like the Times. The Post is given a copy and they must decide whether or not to publish the material.
For much of the film, Mrs. Graham (Meryl Streep) is shown as less than sure about her authority at the paper. She once states that she has never had a job of any kind in her life.
Gradually she grows into handling the responsibility of the position and with Bradlee’s support she becomes the boss. One of the personal difficulties she faces is that she has been a close friend of Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense (Bruce Greenwood).
He is clearly a major party to the Vietnam deception. Bradlee, a friend of the Kennedys, has a similar issue to deal with. Most of the Post’s senior staff try to prevent publication of the classified information.
But Graham and Bradlee come together and face the fact that if the Supreme Court rules against the Post, they may end up in prison.
All those considerations are put aside and the decision is to serve the country. (Two years later, there was the Watergate event that further enhanced the Post’s image and status.)
The cinematic royal trio — Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep — do not disappoint in The Post. I especially appreciate the way Hanks performs the Bradlee role.
From the few times I have seen Ben Bradlee in interviews or other personal appearances, Tom Hanks captures his voice, his posture and attitude and even his walk. Meryl Streep is excellent and thoroughly convincing as the Mrs. Graham we have read much about.
The extensive team of supporting players are all very fine in their roles.
The Post is at the Harkins Sedona 6 theater.